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Darlington draw cools progress

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The fight to avoid relegation is becoming almost as unpredictable as the challenge for the championship silverware as nerves begin to jangle with just six games left to play and so much at stake.

Title rivals Richmondshire and Darlington are still separated by four points after neither was able to do better than grab bonus points in drawn finishes – by coincidence the same number – while half a dozen clubs, any two of which will ultimately drop into the lower division, are not giving up their premier status without a battle.

Bottom club Marske epitomised the fighting spirit to win for the first time in 11 games, exchanging places with Thornaby and dragging the side they defeated, Billingham Synthonia, into greater danger.

On a day when three centuries were scored to highlight extra-special performances in many games, South African Dominic Hendricks was Marske’s man-of-the-moment.

His 93 runs, which included 14 boundaries, came from135 balls from which he guided his side to a four wicket win after being challenged by Billingham to post more than their 190 for six.

Stokesley moved up a place after holding Richmondshire to a draw with 445 runs and just eight wickets falling in a game where two of the century makers featured. Dales ‘pro’, Gary Pratt hit his second hundred in successive games, while rival Jonny Weighell made a maiden ‘ton’ at senior level.

Pratt, who was unbeaten on 128, faced 145 balls as he hit 15 fours and a six and Weighell smashed his unbeaten 109 from 120 balls with 13 boundaries, including one of two sixes to reach his actual century.

Richmond closed on 244 from their 50 overs with their visitors surprising them as they finished just 43 runs behind with seven wickets in hand.

Great Ayton were the day’s biggest run machine with 277 for three against Normanby Hall who they bowled out for 130. Steve Pennock was just seven runs away from his second century of the season when Ayton’s overs ran out.

Chris Batchelor (74) and Lewis Harper (63 not out) shared in partnerships which produced 27 fours and seven sixes, a real batting bonanza. Pennock made his undefeated 93 from 97 balls.

Normanby, who were beaten in the last over, remain in danger alongside Sedgefield whose last two batsmen survived 14 balls to share the points after Ben Thompson (43) came close to winning them the match against Marton.

Thornaby, although dropping back to the foot of the league table, had an even bigger survival margin to overcome to force a draw with Middlesbrough.

Their last two at the wicket survived eight overs after Omar Shahid (61) helped to put on 95 before they lost seven wickets in adding just 43 runs more.

The weekend’s other century maker was featured in this match, Boro captain, James Lowe facing 151 balls and hitting nine fours for his 105 runs and sharing a 156-run stand with Adil Ditta (69 not out).

With Richmondshire held, Darlington didn’t even need to win against Hartlepool to take over again as league leaders, but they could only manage 12 points in a tame draw and remain four points adrift.

Once again their batting let them down and it needed a half century from Jon Barnes to rescue them. Pool (135 for seven) responded with caution against top wicket taker Barnes who was restricted to two wickets from 17 overs, and they ended 24 runs short.

Barnard Castle’s first win in seven games looks to have taken them clear of the danger zone. They moved into the relative comfort of mid-table by beating Guisborough.